Fatherhood as Metaphor?

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
(Matthew 6:9-13)

That the first person of the Holy Trinity has revealed himself to us as Father is sometimes thoughtlessly received by Christians as a given. By saying so I do not mean to accuse anyone of irreverence, but only to say that even as those of us who were raised in the church are taught from childhood to address God as “Our Father,” the fatherhood of God becomes so familiar to us that we fail to reflect deeply upon it. That is to our impoverishment.

The first-century Jews to whom Christ first appeared did not assume such familiarity. While God is occasionally revealed and addressed as Father in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 4:22-23, 1 Chronicles 29:10, Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 31:9), those references are very few in number compared to references to God as Creator, Lord, and Judge. Moreover, the references to God as Father in the Old Testament reflect a formality which lacks the filial tenderness which characterized Christ’s relationship with the Father, and likewise the relationship into which he brings us through his life, death, and resurrection. This scandalized the unbelieving Jews (John 5:18) while it no doubt astounded believers. Surely the disciples were amazed when in response to their request that Jesus teach them to pray (Luke 11:1ff.) he began the model prayer by telling them to address their “Father,” and later Mary Magdelene must have been even more so when the risen Christ told her that he was ascending “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17, emphasis mine). While Christ is the unique, only-begotten Son of God (John 3:16), believers are likewise God’s children by adoption (John 1:12-13, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5) and Christ is our Elder Brother, who sits at the Father’s right hand (Acts 2:33-34).

Those last sentences contain very basic Christian theology, and yet these truths are amazing and humbling when we think about them. God forgive us that these glorious doctrines are so often thoughtlessly confessed even by those who believe them. I myself rarely thought about the fatherhood of God until I became a dad myself, but our son had not been with us long until I began to think about the obvious parallels between God’s fatherhood and mine. Consider a few of these thoughts:

  • I take great care to provide for my son’s needs, as God does for ours (Matthew 7:11).
  • I comfort my son when he is sad or upset, as God does for us when we are afflicted (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
  • I seek to instruct my son in wisdom and knowledge, particularly in the things of God, just as God teaches us by his Word and Spirit (Ephesians 6:4, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • I discipline my son when he chooses unrighteousness, just as God does his children (Hebrews 12:6-8).

These are by no means the only comparisons, of course, and perhaps you have thought of others even as you have considered these ideas. Given these parallels, it might be tempting to think that God has revealed himself to us as Father because of the similarities between human fatherhood and God’s fatherhood, that his self-revelation as father is simply a metaphor, a teaching tool. I’ll confess to having had thoughts like this at times. While these comparisons do teach us something of what it means for God to be Father, I would submit that it is our fatherhood as human beings that is the copy, while his fatherhood is the archetype. In that way, the fatherhood of God is no mere metaphor to teach us, but rather the model for us to emulate, however imperfectly, as we rear our own children.

As regular readers of this blog know, my wife and I became parents not by birth, but by adoption. Our son’s presence in our family is both a great blessing and a tremendous responsibility, as we seek to bring him up as an educated, thoughtful, industrious, and godly man. Strangely, though, Brody had been in our family for some time before I could easily refer to him as “my son,” and I sometimes would refer to him in conversation as “my boy” or something less familial. This was by no means because I did not accept him as my son or anything like that, but because I felt somehow unworthy to refer to him in that way. And yet, as it is the greatest privilege for Christians that God calls us his sons and daughters, I came to realize that for me to look upon Brody and say of him “my son” is not presumption on my part. Instead, it is a way for me to show him great honor and acceptance, and perhaps in some small way to reflect the inestimable privilege that God has bestowed upon those he has so graciously adopted into his family.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
(John 1:11-13)

 

 

 

 

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About Micah Everett

Micah Everett is Associate Professor of Music (Trombone/Low Brass) at the University of Mississippi, Principal Trombonist of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Bass Trombonist of the Great River Trombone Quartet, Assistant Editor (Audio/Video Reviews) for the International Trombone Association Journal, and an S.E. Shires trombone artist. He is the author of THE LOW BRASS PLAYER'S GUIDE TO DOUBLING, published by Mountain Peak Music, and released his first solo recording, STEPPING STONES FOR BASS TROMBONE, VOL. 1, on the Potenza Music label in 2015. In addition to his professional work, he maintains an avid interest in the study of the Bible and of Reformed theology. He holds doctoral and master's degrees in music from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a bachelor's degree in music education from Delta State University, and a certificate in systematic theology from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. The ideas and opinions expressed here are not necessarily shared by the employers and organizations with which the author is associated.
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